Skip

War Robot
May 21, 2014 10:02 PM   Subscribe

War robots are now so real that "87 countries sat down at a United Nations-convened conference from May 13th to the 15th to discuss banning the things." A country on the forefront of development is Russia. They have announced that armed roaming robots would be standing guard over 5 ballistic missile bases, and there are plans for a new military robot laboratory. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said "We have to conduct battles without any contact so that our boys do not die, and for that it is necessary to use war robots." Defense experts say within 10 years nearly every country will have robotic weapons, mass produced and exported by countries like the US, China and Russia.
posted by stbalbach (68 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Between this and the drone (sorry, UAV) programs, it's like the movie Toys was somehow prescient or something.

It's a shame the surrealism and joy of that movie won't win out over the military urges like it did in that film.
posted by hippybear at 10:10 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Wait until the hackers figure out a back door.

All Your Robots Are Belong To Us!!!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:13 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


What I want to know is why the hell we would ban the things instead of banning the use of humans instead and letting the fucking robots fight it out on everyone's behalf.
posted by Scattercat at 10:14 PM on May 21 [14 favorites]


Collateral damage comes to mind.
posted by hippybear at 10:15 PM on May 21 [7 favorites]


If we can afford a robot, we can afford a big open field where the robot can fight in. :-P
posted by Scattercat at 10:21 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


The next time the US makes war on some poor nation its difficult to see them waiting for the enemy to roll the robots out. And once the place is occupied the only way to fight back will be with human guerrillas in the human population centres where the robots patrol.
posted by biffa at 10:22 PM on May 21 [2 favorites]


There is absolutely nothing that could go wrong with this.
posted by empath at 10:25 PM on May 21 [21 favorites]


The Russians call such robots MRKs, from the Russian for Mobile Robotic Complex. The latest is the MRK-002-BG-57, nicknamed Wolf-2. It's basically a tank the size of a small car with a 12.7-mm heavy machine gun. In the tank's automated mode, the operator can remotely select up to 10 targets, which the robot then bombards. Wolf-2 can act on its own to some degree (the makers are vague about what degree), but the decision to use lethal force is ultimately under human control.

What's being described in that paragraph is a drone, not an autonomous robot. So long as there is an operator controlling it and selecting targets I see no reason to treat it differently from other weapons of war.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:33 PM on May 21 [5 favorites]


Easier to have a more aggressive posture if all that's being risked is really "just a machine".

Unfortunately, things tend to escalate...
posted by codswallop at 10:36 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


If war is fought by robots, the only casualties will be civilians.
posted by heathkit at 10:42 PM on May 21 [22 favorites]


Who knew the 1990 film Robot Jox would be so precedent
posted by hellojed at 10:44 PM on May 21 [10 favorites]


What's being described in that paragraph is a drone, not an autonomous robot.

They are cagey on details. From the New Scientist article:
THE West has always been a little squeamish about the idea of arming robots. Despite decades of development, no systems have ever been deployed and a vocal human rights campaign means it's unlikely to happen in the near future. The Russians, on the other hand, appear to be rather less concerned.
The impression is Russia is trying to make autonomous war robots and may have one already in use.
posted by stbalbach at 10:45 PM on May 21


see P.K. Dick:
Second Variety

Ray Bradbury said something to the effect of :
I don't write to predict the future, I write to prevent it.
posted by hank at 10:51 PM on May 21 [9 favorites]


Has anyone located John Connor yet?
posted by mule98J at 10:52 PM on May 21


Thanks, stbalbach, neat post. The Foreign Policy article is interesting, with lots of good links itself (like "US Army Studying Replacing Thousands of Grunts with Robots" from Defense News in January), but I can't help rolling my eyes at the WE MUST NOT LOSE THE ROBOT GAP tone, given the lies behind the Cold War missile gap, bomber gap, etc. It wouldn't surprise me to find direct connections on the board of directors of the Center for a New American Security, the think tank where the author is an Adjunct Senior Fellow, and the standard major weapons manufacturers that sell ridiculously overpriced military equipment to the US government.
posted by mediareport at 10:55 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


You know the main problem with robots? Especially big hulking metal ones? Magnets.

Big, fuck-off, building sized electro-magnets.

That's going to the be next "WE MUST NOT LOSE THE {insert weapon here} GAP".
posted by daq at 11:11 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


This is great news! The logical progression of using robot soldiers to reduce human casualties is war fought entirely by machines. Once we automate aggression, we humans can just sit back and let the machines wage all the war for us. Think of all the man-hours saved!
posted by drinkyclown at 11:36 PM on May 21


From here on, our fate is in the hands of the Starcraft players. On reflection I think we might need to find some oldtimers who have played Command and Conquer and it would be good to have some tesla tanks.
posted by vicx at 11:40 PM on May 21 [3 favorites]


Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said "We have to conduct battles without any contact so that our boys do not die

I hear millions of ethereal voices laughing, some of them from graves not two decades old.

But they will surely make a killing on arms sales.
posted by hat_eater at 11:46 PM on May 21 [1 favorite]


Anyone saying, "This robot, though it can be automated, has been dumbed-down for morality's sake." is full of shit.

That's like, you go on a treasure hunt and, gosh darn-it didn't find anything but hey wanna take a ride in my new helicopter?

I mean, come on.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:20 AM on May 22


justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow: "What's being described in that paragraph is a drone, not an autonomous robot. So long as there is an operator controlling it ..."
Yes, so long as there's an operator controlling it. Robot Cannon Kills 9, Wounds 14.
posted by brokkr at 2:00 AM on May 22


The robot vs. robot battle is just a warm up fight before the winning side's robots shoot the losing side's soldiers and civilians.

Ain't nobody ever gonna surrender because you killed all their robots.
posted by ryanrs at 2:24 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


5,4,3,2,1....Skynet is active!
posted by mygoditsbob at 2:47 AM on May 22


The greatest thing about this is you can fucking well see how truly shitty an idea this is, even at this nascent stage. All that's missing is a sad, tired voice-over from the hero at the start of a "future dystopia" flick.
posted by maxwelton at 3:04 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


"We're not used to thinking of them in this way. But many advanced military weapons are essentially robotic - picking targets automatically, slewing into position, and waiting only for a human to pull the trigger. "
If this is essentially robotic than we've had robotic weapons since WWII.

Here is a really cool training film for WWII pilots on the theory and practice of evading antiaircraft fire, which requires a lot of split second and thus automated computation to point, written to the mathematical literacy of an average American farm boy in the 40's.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:10 AM on May 22 [8 favorites]


Anyone have an alternate link for the text of the Foreign Policy article? For some reason it's completely broken on both Firefox and Chrome for me, in that it loads entirely, but refuses to scroll by any means...
posted by Dysk at 3:14 AM on May 22


I think the panic on this is all about drones; I might be wrong but I don't think anyone is near a truly autonomous military robot.

One point is that while you might ban governments from using them, terrorists, gangsters and assassins at a hobbyist level are going to be able to lash together pretty effective drones before long, if they can't already.
posted by Segundus at 4:37 AM on May 22


why the hell we would ban the things instead of banning the use of humans instead

Coincidentally...

--Skynet
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:39 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


When the singularity arrives, there will be artificial intelligence around that will deserve rights. One of those rights will be the right to bear arms. Why would you deny an intelligent entity the right to open carry? It's unAmerican.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:44 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


I've posted this before, but I find the War Nerd's argument that Google bought Boston Dynamics in order to create robots to fight otherwise-unwinnable counterinsurgency wars pretty interesting.
What’s more likely is a mixed squad, with some actual humans—back out of suicide-bomber range—and BD-derived models, biped and quadraped, fronting the public. There’ll be mockery, but that’s another weapon only useful on gregarious mammals. Over time, the inhuman discipline of the walking machines will make their approximation of familiar organisms acceptable. Better a humanoid who doesn’t commit reprisals than a fully human foreigner with a temper and a 25mm automatic cannon.

The advantages—for the occupier—are almost endless. No relatives to hold up pictures of dead relatives outside the White House. No lawsuits. No PTSD. And huge, almost unimaginable profits for whoever holds the patents.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:52 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


The greatest thing about this is you can fucking well see how truly shitty an idea this is, even at this nascent stage.

Maybe this will provoke a discussion about whether or not we can afford war at all? Or maybe unimaginable profits is the only answer that makes sense.
posted by sneebler at 4:56 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


> If we can afford a robot, we can afford a big open field where the robot can fight in. :-P

This has never worked for human-centric war, either.

There isn't some sort of law or rule like chess in war where the winner "wins" the war by defeating some of their opponents resources and then the loser happily concedes the loss and forfeits whatever the hell they're fighting about.

If this were true they could just play a video game to determine the winner. Or chess.

The reality of war is fucked up. The winner "wins" by utterly destroying their opponents ability to wage war in return. This almost always means that civilian lives and property are destroyed, imprisoned or otherwise excluded from the area of conflict and control.

War isn't simply hell, it's death of the opposing army, their supporting civilian civilization and the destruction of their infrastructure.

The only real way to "win" a war is for both sides to choose not to play in the first place. Even when one side "wins" it ends up with a lot of dead people and destruction all around.

The root of almost all war is economic. The arms dealers and militarists aren't interested in combat robots to save lives. They're interested in it to save and/or make money whether it's through arms sales, not having to pay for or care for soldiers - or direct conquest and acquisition and control.

This includes defense, to keep what control and wealth that a nation or entity already has.
posted by loquacious at 5:19 AM on May 22 [6 favorites]


Has anyone located John Connor yet?

I think he said he was going to The Galleria.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:53 AM on May 22 [8 favorites]


What I want to know is why the hell we would ban the things instead of banning the use of humans instead and letting the fucking robots fight it out on everyone's behalf.

People mentioned Skynet a few times above, but here's the actual quote from the movie:

The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th.

If robots fighting meant having a Robot Thunderdome where disputes were settled, that would be great. But instead it is going to mean mobile autonomous killing machines that make an area uninhabitable -- for example, we are still grappling with the legacy of decades of land mines, but imagine if those land mines could move and seek out targets.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:56 AM on May 22 [3 favorites]


imagine if those land mines could move and seek out targets

Behold the (now fairly old) Fire Ant (first two images).

Designed to be air-dropped into an environment, automatically seek out shade/concealment, and wait for an enemy tank to drive past. Whereupon it would identify the rear of the tank, drive up, and detonate that huge shaped charge you see mounted on it.

I also recall reading in Janes, probably around 1990, about an antitank mine that included two antipersonnel devices and which used audio-analysis for the trigger. A car can drive over it no problem, but if a tank drives over it goes off. Worse, if it heard the sound of approaching footsteps (as in a de-mining team), it would throw one of the antipersonnel devices at them.
posted by aramaic at 6:06 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Autonomous gun turrets have been deployed in the Korean DMZ on a trial basis back in 2010:

http://singularityhub.com/2010/07/25/armed-robots-deployed-by-south-korea-in-demilitarized-zone-on-trial-basis/
posted by I-baLL at 6:08 AM on May 22


Just in case this doesn't already seem enough like real life becoming a horror movie

(Moreso than present conditions in a war zone are already like a horror movie, that is.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:38 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


"The wars of the future will not be fought on the battlefield or at sea.
They will be fought in space, or possibly on top of a very tall mountain.
In either case, most of the actual fighting will be done by small robots.
And as you go forth today remember always your duty is clear:
To build and maintain those robots."
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:47 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


I might be wrong but I don't think anyone is near a truly autonomous military robot.

Technologically it is here. There are self-driving cars on public roads. I-baLL linked to an autonomous gun in South Korea (static mounted). Just mount the self-firing gun on the back of a self-driving pickup truck and let it loose with some instructions.
posted by stbalbach at 7:17 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


But instead it is going to mean mobile autonomous killing machines that make an area uninhabitable -- for example, we are still grappling with the legacy of decades of land mines, but imagine if those land mines could move and seek out targets.

Strictly of ignorance, I ask: but how long can a fancy robot (read: capable of person-like action and analysis, perhaps?) be left without maintenance? On the one hand a basic device can make a long haul on Mars, I know, but on the other hand the people I have known who served make it sound as though the maintenance of their current fancy vehicles was an ongoing and frequent process. It just seems to me that land mines may be on the simple, static, side, as far as examples of terrifying military technology go.

(I'm not saying that needing maintenance = virtue or anything good, of course.)
posted by mr. digits at 7:17 AM on May 22


Scariest bit of XMLicious' link...
The EATR is programmed to consume certain types of vegetation, and only those types of vegetation. EATR can ingest biomass, including meat, in order to convert it into fuel. EATR can also use other fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, cooking oil, or solar energy. The company also includes "chicken fat"[4] as one of its proposed fuel sources in the project overview.
Meat-eating warbots? Oh man, we're doomed.

Also: ABC Warriors!
posted by jiroczech at 7:41 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


ROBOT FUEL IS PEOPLE!
posted by entropicamericana at 7:46 AM on May 22


It seems to me that it's an error to classify this sort of technology as "conventional weapons". The inherent attractiveness of it from a military perspective is that it's so scalable: get killer robots autonomous enough and cheap enough to mass-manufacture and upgrade and they're useful for anything from an assassination of an individual up to the same lethality as a nuclear strike and will also permit occupation of territory and control of civilian populations or ethnic cleansing.

Scalability is possible with anything lethal, of course, but the difference to me is that this technology lets you project military force "on margin", so that your capabilities aren't proportional to the number of military personnel or the industrial base you have. It seems as though eventually détentes between opposing forces can't exist as stable points in the system because miniscule changes in conditions or the technology such that they give any side an advantage will always result in a 1929-Wall-Street-crash volatility in the progress and balance of a conflict.
posted by XMLicious at 7:52 AM on May 22


Man, that Fire Ant thingy looks a LOT like my lawn tractor. Now I'm leery of walking out back to my shed.
posted by valkane at 7:53 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]




On the one hand a basic device can make a long haul on Mars, I know, but on the other hand the people I have known who served make it sound as though the maintenance of their current fancy vehicles was an ongoing and frequent process.

That's a good point. The outcome of a conflict might depend on where the gamma distribution curves for the life of different types of equipment cross. Which could take place before or after all the humans are dead. Beyond murder by spreadsheet, there's murder by SPSS model.
posted by XMLicious at 8:10 AM on May 22


Banning? No, no, no. This is the new age of war! Mostly bloodless!

It starts with a disagreement settled with death robots pitted against each other, no human casualties are allowed. As the losing side begins to realize its position is actually of the losing side, the cheating begins. First the losing side, then the winning side start to crack into the robots of the other side. Then into the information networks of the other side. Finally, in desperation, the losing side throws it all away and sends the troops into the Winner's actual country.

Perfectly civilized and totally not one of the background plots to a major sci-fi novel within the last twenty years.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:16 AM on May 22


Despite decades of development, no systems have ever been deployed and a vocal human rights campaign means it's unlikely to happen in the near future.

I suspect in our dystopian future, the AIs will consider the term "human rights" in much the same way the beef industry currently views the term "animal rights."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:22 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Maybe that sort of thing would happen less frequently if organisms took AI rights more seriously instead of treating them as disposable weapons.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:27 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


Ain't nobody ever gonna surrender because you killed all their robots.

No but they do surrender when you've destroyed their supply chain, their oil/gas stockpile, their command and communications centers and blockaded their governmental institutions. Robots can do all of those things.
posted by spicynuts at 8:34 AM on May 22


The upshoot is going to be that nations which can build and deploy dronex will gave an unbeatable advantage 8ver those which can't. Also that the claim that the 2nd Amendment exists to defend against the government is even less rati8nal than it ucrrently is.

There is no defense against mature drone technologybut mature drone technology. This stuff isn't even model T level, it's the drone equivalent of a horse and buggy. Q5 or 20 years from now we'll see things really start to change. Protext you don't like? No problem, unloose a few hundred or thiusand 10cmscale drones equipped with tazers, wasp stings, pepper spray, etc.

Want to wipe out "terrorists" in an area? Send in a few thousand drones designed to smell out and kill anyone who smells like explosives or gunpowder.

All the treaties and moral arguments will make no difference at all. There will be war drones, and they will be 10cm scale or smaller. And if you don't have counter drones there is absolutely no realistic defense.
posted by sotonohito at 8:37 AM on May 22


For some people, adulthood is when you reach a particular age and that is that. For others, adulthood is marked by other moments: you're able to appreciate your parents' music, or you find yourself getting excited about appliances, or you see nothing wrong with being in bed before eleven on a Friday night.

For me, adulthood was the moment I was reading about war robots, and how every country will have war robots within the next ten years, so there's every chance that future wars will be fought between robots, and I only found it depressing instead of exciting.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:39 AM on May 22 [5 favorites]


Easier to have a more aggressive posture if all that's being risked is really "just a machine".

Because of course, the use of human soldiers totally prevented aggressive postures in oh, 1914, 1939, 1956, 1990 1992, 1994, 2001, 2003...

Face facts: you're about 60 years too late to be whining about automated warfare; you've had the death of human civilization bound up in the deployment of robot war machines since the 1960s, and you've been able to live with it before. This is no different.
posted by happyroach at 8:47 AM on May 22


Perhaps the largest and most destructive autonomous war robot has already been built. The Russian Dead Hand. The stuff of nightmares. It can automatically (supposedly) initiate a full-scale nuclear strike without human intervention. On good days it operates as designed.
posted by stbalbach at 8:53 AM on May 22


Also that the claim that the 2nd Amendment exists to defend against the government is even less rati8nal than it ucrrently is.

That is an interesting point -- if we must bear arms so that we can defend FREEDOM against the government, and the government's corps is basically immune to rifle rounds, maybe we'd better have RPGs... no, wait, satchel-contained nuclear arms...
posted by mr. digits at 9:41 AM on May 22


One point is that while you might ban governments from using them, terrorists, gangsters and assassins at a hobbyist level are going to be able to lash together pretty effective drones before long, if they can't already.

we're already there.

There's bigger, more powerful ones out there too. That thing is fucking $300. Yea, you need a motor and batteries and tx/rx and a lot of other stuff, but you could have a serious setup for less than two grand. And unlike the cheap quadcopters, it can carry a lot more than just a camera. It has a fucking ten foot wingspan.

This will probably get me put on some kind of list, but me and my dad were recently talking about UAV that nearly collided with an airliner... and how all it's going to take is a situation like that, or someone buying something like that UAV-3000 and ramming it into something while full of explosives to cause a serious shift banning that sort of stuff being civilian owned.

Does anyone know what would happen if a jet engine ingested a bunch of 10s lipo packs? i've seen those things burn a hole in asphalt when they fail/are punctured.

And, following that thread, what is the response going to be when the multimillion dollar US/russian machines are being destroyed by less than $10k "drone" equivalents of an IED? Because "small, quiet, cheap tri/quad/hex copter with a grenade strapped to it and a bunch of screws and nails glued to the outside" seems like a much more cost effective weapon than super expensive one with a couple machine guns.

Because yea, i'm with you on this. The problem isn't going to be the expensive ones, it's going to be the cheap DIY versions. Fuck, you can buy flight controllers which support preprogrammed, GPS guided flight for like... $200. You set it up on a laptop in a couple minutes, the app even uses the google maps/earth API to give you a nice little satellite view. You can set waypoints, altitude, everything. If you're good you can make the thing fly in a damn window and land.

The entire robots fighting robots thing is a joke, too. These exist to kill people. The question is whether a box full of the aforementioned grenadecopters will kill more people, more economically than 2-3 big fancy robots. And i think we're about to find out the hard way.
posted by emptythought at 10:57 AM on May 22 [2 favorites]


What this really drives home for me is the impending terror of the drone/robot equivalent of the Battle of the Somme. The next great war will be devastating on a level of that people in the western world are totally unprepared for.
posted by feloniousmonk at 11:04 AM on May 22


Power gathers power. Wealth gathers wealth. In the old world order, there was an emergency relief valve. Workers can strike. Civilians can revolt. Soldiers can mutiny. It's ugly, but it works.

I'm not afraid of the robots. I'm afraid of the one tyrant with the one joystick who controls the robots.
posted by Skwirl at 11:56 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


What this really drives home for me is the impending terror of the drone/robot equivalent of the Battle of the Somme. The next great war will be devastating on a level of that people in the western world are totally unprepared for.

The conflicts that have plagued the Congo since the 80s may have a casualty count halfway to that of WWI, or maybe have only killed a million people so far, but either way will surely be inflamed by cheap drones and autonomous weapons; the next great war may be in progress right now.
posted by XMLicious at 12:41 PM on May 22


G. Harry Stine had a series of books in the later 80's about the reintroduction of human troops into the battlefield after robots took it over because there are some jobs that need humans.
posted by cuscutis at 1:33 PM on May 22


Yeah, where the hell does the idea that robots would be used by the great powers to fight bloodless wars against each other even come from? And to second emptythought, it doesn't matter whether a robot weapon is fully autonomous or is run by someone with joystick — these are just new guns and bombs, ultimately wielded by people, used to wage violence against other people.

Until they decide otherwise.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 1:38 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


omg I just realized that this means when I'm elderly I may actually need robot insurance. If said robots don't result in me never becoming elderly.
posted by XMLicious at 5:43 PM on May 22


The best thing about these killbots is they have a pre-set kill limit. The solution is to send wave after wave of our own generals at them until they shut down.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:43 PM on May 22 [1 favorite]


The military-industrial complex could really escalate this in the US in a hurry. There's just enough crazies in the House that the mention of falling behind Putin in either the armed robot or even the space race could stir those fuckers into a frothing fury.
posted by Ber at 7:50 PM on May 22


We should just get the NSA to put backdoors in all of the Russians' systems. It would be like the Maginot Line not only failed to prevent the invasion of France, but participated in it too.
posted by XMLicious at 8:06 PM on May 22


The military-industrial complex could really escalate this in the US in a hurry.

The Pentagon can't even give up legacy systems it currently feels are outdated because members of Congress won't let go of the pork generated by the military-industrial complex for their represented districts.
posted by hippybear at 10:20 PM on May 22






« Older Warning: Tears May Be Imminent   |   Your random photograph as a movie poster Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post